How do you stop a founder from dominating board meetings – or persuade an underperforming CEO to step aside? How can you help a business to grow rapidly with limited funds? And how do you achieve the right balance between strategy and operations?
These were just some of questions raised at Mercia’s Chair Summit, which took place at the University of Warwick and gave non-executives from our portfolio companies the chance to ask the experts and share their challenges. The full-day event, which was attended by over 40 NEDs, featured three masterclasses:
Patrick Dunne, Chair of Boardelta and author of Boards, offered advice on practicalities from managing the ‘agenda challenge’ to decision making and dealing with conflicts. He also gave fascinating insights from behavioural science, drawing on concepts such as power dynamics, the ‘hill of influence’ and catastrophe theory.
The role of culture in innovation and growth
Vikki Sly, Chief People Officer at tech ‘unicorn’ Blue Prism plc, said culture could be a key differentiator for fast-growing firms. Vikki, who has seen the former Mercia-backed company grow from 200 to 700 employees, warned that typical start-ups with a small founding team and a ‘settler mentality’ need to stay true to their core values as they scale. She also explained how the world of work has changed, why past practices and hierarchies are no longer suitable and why companies need to rewrite the rule book.
The role of the Non-Executive Chair
Diane Cheeseborough, who has over 20 years’ experience in senior management roles, latterly as Managing Director of language tech firm the bigword, recalled her own transition to non-executive roles and how she had to ‘unlearn old habits and learn new ones’. She shared some of the lessons from her new career as a non-exec, and what she had learned from speaking to successful chairs.
Mark Payton, CEO of Mercia, said developing successful businesses was about more than just investing capital. Mercia offers portfolio companies a whole range of support including help to assess and develop their boards.
He told the audience: “Most of you will have run businesses and have learned from your mistakes so our C-suite don’t have to. Having this sort of wisdom from people who know what good – and bad – looks like is invaluable for a growing business.”
Watch a short video we have produced of the event’s highlights.